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Elsa Schiaparelli (1890–1973)

Author of Shocking Life

Includes the names: Elsa Schiaparelli

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Elsa Schiaparelli was born in Rome to an aristocratic mother and a father who was a scholar and curator of medieval manuscripts and dean of the University of Rome. She spent many hours studying with her paternal uncle, Giovanni Schiaparelli, an astromer who identified the so-called canals of Mars. After reading philosophy at the University of Rome, she went to London in 1913 to work as a nanny. The following year, she married Count William de Wendt de Kerlor, a Polish-Swiss theosophist and lecturer, within days of their meeting. The couple moved to the USA, where Elsa would remain for the next six years. After giving birth to her only child in 1920, she separated from her husband and worked at various odd jobs to support herself, before relocating to Paris in 1922. She developed a strong friendship with Gabrielle Picabia, ex-wife of the Dadaist painter Francis Picabia, which led to her involvement with members of the Surrealist movement. She produced art and sculpture and made clothes for herself and her close friends. Paul Poiret encouraged her to pursue dressmaking as a suitable outlet for her artistic abilities. In 1927, after several years of designing and selling her pieces freelance, she opened a small atelier; one of her trompe l'oeil designs caught the attention of an American buyer and launched her career. Over the next several years, her collections evolved from sweaters and sportswear to a full line of clothing. The peak of her career was the clothes and accessories she created from the mid-1930s to 1940, when she was collaborating with the Surrealist artists Jean Cocteau, Salvador DalĂ­, and Man Ray. She went to New York City after the outbreak of World War II, and returned to Paris at the end of the German Occupation. Eventually, she was eclipsed by other designers such as Dior and Chanel, and the House of Schiaparelli declared bankruptcy in 1954. She wrote her autobiography, Shocking Life, and lived a comfortable retirement between her apartment in Paris and a house in Tunisia.
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